Want to Become an Animal Doc? First Ask Yourself These 6 Questions

By Paula Fitzsimmons

Veterinary medicine has got to be one of the most undervalued professions on the planet. The path to becoming a veterinarian begins with rigorous academic training . . . at great personal financial expense that often leads to debt.

Vets get pooped on and bitten by their patients – no animal in his or her right mind actually looks forward to seeing the vet.

They also regularly deal with a range of human personalities and quirks. For instance, not everyone understands why they actually have to pay more than a few bucks for professional services. As if vets should work for free.

And even though these dedicated professionals have to study and work as hard as their human doctor counterparts (some argue even harder), they don’t always get the same level of respect from the public. Nor do they earn at the same level as physicians.

Those of us who cherish our animals depend on – and value – good veterinarians. So if this is your lifelong ambition, we applaud you . . . and are cheering you on. We want you to succeed.

But before you make this life-altering commitment, you should ask yourself some probing questions – and be ready with  honest answers. The following isn’t meant to sour you to the veterinary profession – because if this is something you really want, nobody has the right to dissuade you. You can find ways to make it work.

1. Are you prepared for debt?

Unless you have wealthy relatives, or plan to receive a full scholarship, chances are you’ll have to take out a school loan. And ouch, it can be painful.

According to this handy graph compiled by Stanford University, 2015 tuition costs for in-state students at accredited vet schools in the United States, ranged from about $16,546 to $52,400, per year. This doesn’t include cost increases for out-of-state students, living expenses, or high interest rates.

The last thing you want after working so hard is to graduate with massive debt. Yet this is precisely what vet school graduates are facing – and apparently it’s not an uncommon issue. Per this New York Times article, “High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets” debt can even follow graduates for decades.

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2. Can you live on modest pay?

Paying off those school loans wouldn’t be so terrible if salaries kept up with inflation. Considering the level of education, training, and responsibility inherent with this field, the starting pay isn’t what you’d consider to be fantastic. Per a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, new grads who worked primarily or fully with companion animals, were expecting to earn between $67,631 and $69,712 per year – yearly salaries for horse vets were even lower, at $47.806 per year.

The pay does improve with time and experience, however. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for veterinarians is $98,230 per year.  This range can vary greatly, depending on location, expertise, and organization.

If you have relatively few expenses or are a dual-income family, it’s possible to make a comfortable living as a vet. Just don’t expect to go into this line of work expecting to make piles of money.

3. How do you get along with people?

Communicating effectively with people is a prerequisite for becoming a vet. Animals can’t speak for themselves, after all, so you’ll need to rely on their humans for important information.

And let’s face it, people can be difficult – some more so than others. Add to this the assortment of stressful scenarios that you’ll have to handle with tact, including clients worried about their beloved companion animals.

Cartoon Cat
4. How do you deal with stress?

Animal lives will be in your hands. Can you make decisions quickly and accurately? How will you feel if you’re unable to heal an animal? There are numerous situations that will inevitably occur, so you – and your psyche – need to be prepared.

5. Can you handle the rigors of vet school?

You’ll need the academic stamina necessary to digest an enormous amount of information . . .and so when you’re not in class or clinicals, study will take up most of your time. Not much different than what would be expected from a medical school student.

Speaking of which, how did you perform in college? It’s not a secret that vet school is academically competitive – in some cases, even more so than medical school.

Vet schools can afford to be picky because there’s a limited number of schools and plenty of qualified applicants – so what do you bring to the table that’s special?

Expect to show a perfect (or at least near-perfect) undergraduate grade point average, as well as evidence that you’re a well-rounded person (volunteer activities, part-time jobs, for example.) You’ll be competing with other students who are extremely academically motivated.

6. Do you like science?

This may seem like a silly question, but I bring this up because for a reason. You know that high college GPA I mentioned? Your undergraduate degree doesn’t need to be focused in a science – vet schools accept students with an assortment of majors, not just those in the sciences.

When you get to vet school, you’ll be immersed in science courses . . .anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, bacteriology, immunology, to name just a few.

 

If after careful thought and research you’ve decided that being a vet isn’t for you, don’t despair. There are an assortment of fields where your passion for animals and skills are needed. If you need a boost in deciding what this field may be, you may want to check out my article, “How to Decide on the Perfect Animal-Centered Career” for some ideas.

If being a veterinarian is your goal . . .those of us who care deeply about animals are grateful for your dedication.

 

Dog image credit (minus type and additional design): #19052587 from Clipart.com.

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